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By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Flying Dutchman Theo Bos will be among the riders hoping to blaze a gold-medal trail on the freshly laid Siberian pine boards that will host the world track cycling championships this week in Palma de Majorca, Spain.
The four-day competition begins on a note of novelty on Thursday when the inaugural, five-race omnium event, the team pursuit and men’s individual pursuit are raced in a brand-new velodrome on which the paint is still drying.
Bos, who will shoulder the Netherlands’ gold-medal hopes on his lithe frame at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will be hoping to leave a big impression.
The Dutchman has won three gold medals from the past two championships and in December confirmed his pre-Olympics form by setting a new world record of 9.772 seconds for the 200-meter flying start.
Britain’s Craig MacLean was convincingly dominated in last year’s sprint final in Bordeaux, where Bos also secured gold in the keirin.
“He (Bos) is still the man to beat. But I still believe that no one is unbeatable,” said MacLean, who is part of a strong British squad that last year claimed one gold, four silver and a bronze.
MacLean, meanwhile, could focus most of his energy in the team sprint, a title he and Britain will be keen to regain after settling for silver, along with Jamie Staff and Chris Hoy, behind France last year.
Britain’s only gold in Bordeaux came courtesy of Olympic champion Hoy in the kilometer time trial.
But Hoy, who this year will attempt to better the world record held by France’s Arnaud Tournant, has been forced to rethink his Olympic ambitions because the kilo’ has been cut from the Olympic program.
The possibility of another individual Olympic gold, in the keirin, has given Hoy ideas. He admits there’s work to do ahead of Beijing, meaning his kilo’ gold hopes in Palma could suffer.
“It’s certainly an event I have found some success in this year and is one I have enjoyed,” said Hoy, who won the Los Angeles World Cup round of the often-frantic, spectacular race earlier this season.
“Although not a primary goal for this world’s, it is an Olympic event, so if things go well, then you never know what could happen in Beijing. I have had to prioritise and the kilometer is not the top one for the world’s.”
Olympic 4km pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins, and sprint queen Victoria Pendleton could be Britain’s biggest hopes of gold medals in the competition.
The championships would not be complete without the Australian, French and Germans, and all three track powers will be keen to set down markers ahead of next year.
Australia had a comparatively mediocre showing in Bordeaux, having paid, along with Britain, for their efforts in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne some weeks previously.
Ryan Bayley, the reigning Olympic and Commonwealth champion in both the sprint and keirin, failed to make the finals and will expect to make amends.
While Ben Kersten won silver behind Hoy and Anna Meares won the time-trial silver behind Belarussian Natalia Tsylinskaya, the Aussies’ highlight was beating Britain in the men’s team pursuit.
The team-pursuit thriller saw Australia regain the team crown they perhaps covet most, and this Friday’s race will allow all the contenders to see just how they are faring barely 17 months from their Olympic showdown.
Australia is not known for lying down to a challenge and harbors plenty of medal hopes in both men’s and women’s teams.
Bos, meanwhile, may finally unleash the new high-tech racing machine on which he will hope to keep blazing a golden trail in the speed events.
It will likely be up to Bayley, and French pair Gregory Bauge and Tournant, to cool him down.
World track cycling championships schedule
Thursday, March 29
Omnium I sprint 200-meter time trial (M)
Omnium II scratch 5km (M)
Omnium III individual pursuit (M)
Omnium IV Points race 15 km (M)
Individual pursuit finals (M)
Omnium final kilometer time trial (M)
Team sprint (W)
Team sprint (M)
Friday, March 30
Individual pursuit (W)
Team pursuit (M)
Keirin final (M)
Scratch 15km final (M)
Saturday, March 31
500-meter time trial (W)
Points race 40km (M)
Sprint finals (W)
Sprint finals II (W)
Scratch 10km final (W)
Sprint finals III (W)
Sunday, April 1
Kilometer time trial (M)
Madison 50km final (M)
Sprint finals I (M)
Points race 25km final (W)
Sprint final II (M)
Keirin final (W)
Sprint finals III (M)